Thai PM defends appointing airport siege leader

Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva on Tuesday defended his decision to appoint as adviser to government a member of a protest group that was behind a siege of Bangkok’s airports last year.

The appointment risks causing further divisions with supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose allies were driven from government partly as a result of the crippling week-long blockade in late November.

Abhisit, who came to power after the last government fell in mid-December, said Prapanth Koonmee, a member of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), had not committed any crime by giving speeches during the movement’s rallies.

“Whoever was on stage, if they didn’t violate the law then there is no problem. Whoever has broken the law will be prosecuted,” Abhisit told reporters.

Prapanth was appointed as an adviser to the deputy commerce minister at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, government officials said.

But Abhisit rejected two other leading PAD members, Samran Rodpetch and Phichet Pattanachot, for advisory posts because of queries over whether they were still working in the private sector, officials said.

The royalist PAD occupied the airports at the peak of their protest movement against the previous, pro-Thaksin government, stranding hundreds of thousands of foreign travellers and costing the economy billions of dollars.

They abandoned the siege after the Constitutional Court disbanded the former ruling People Power Party on December 2. Democrat Party leader Abhisit won a parliamentary vote to become prime minister on December 15.

Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister and Democrat Party secretary general, said earlier that the three PAD members were not “core leaders” of the movement.

The prime minister is already facing calls from Thaksin’s supporters—known as “red shirts” because of their favoured attire—to sack Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya over his own ties to the PAD.

The government, however, dismissed their threats to disrupt next month’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin if Kasit is not removed from government.

“The red-shirt people allege that Kasit is a terrorist, but Kasit is a diplomat who can benefit our national interests,” Suthep said.

Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and is living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption imposed in absentia.
The PAD accused the previous government of being a corrupt front for him.

His supporters say Abhisit’s rise to power is illegitimate and have demanded that he call elections. A “red-shirt” protest forced the premier to move his inaugural policy speech from Parliament in late December. - Sapa-AFP

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